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Moss v. Savannah River Remediation, LLC

United States District Court, D. South Carolina, Aiken Division

September 28, 2016

Roman Moss, Plaintiff,
v.
Savannah River Remediation, LLC, Defendant.

          ORDER AND OPINION

         Plaintiff Roman Moss (“Plaintiff”) filed this action against his former employer, Defendant Savannah River Remediation, LLC (“Defendant”), alleging that he was subjected to race discrimination, a hostile work environment, and retaliation, all in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (“Title VII”), 42 U.S.C. §§ 2000e-2000e-17.[1] (ECF No. 1 at 5-6.) Plaintiff also alleges race discrimination in violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1981 (“§ 1981”) and a claim for breach of contract under state law. (Id. at 6-8.)

         This matter is before the court on Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment pursuant to Rule 56 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. (ECF No. 21.) In accordance with 28 U.S.C. § 636(b) and Local Rule 73.02(B)(2)(g) D.S.C., the matter was referred to United States Magistrate Judge Shiva V. Hodges for pretrial handling. On June 27, 2016, the Magistrate Judge issued a Report and Recommendation in which she recommended that the court grant Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment as to all of Plaintiff's claims. (ECF No. 28.) Plaintiff filed Objections to the Magistrate Judge's Report and Recommendation, which are presently before the court. (ECF No. 29.) For the reasons set forth below, the court ACCEPTS the Magistrate Judge's recommendation and GRANTS Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment.

         I. RELEVANT FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

         The facts of this matter are discussed in the Report and Recommendation. (ECF No. 28 at 2-10.) The court concludes, upon its own careful review of the record, that the Magistrate Judge's factual summation is accurate and incorporates it by reference. The court will only reference herein those additional facts viewed in the light most favorable to Plaintiff that are pertinent to the analysis of his claims.

         Defendant entered into a project agreement (“PA”) with several unions, including Laborers International Union of North America, Local 515, for work performed for the Department of Energy at the Savannah River Site (“SRS”). (ECF No. 21-2 at 9-30.) Plaintiff, a Caucasian male, joined the union in the summer of 2009. (ECF No. 21-4.) After referral by the union, Defendant hired Plaintiff as a craft laborer at SRS on May 11, 2010. (ECF No. 21-2 at 1-7.)

         Craft laborers were evaluated every six months by their foremen and general foremen under a Craft Performance Evaluation Program (“Evaluation”). (ECF No. 21-1 at 38.) When a site supervisor determined that the number of craft employees exceeded the current workload, he or she would request a layoff with Defendant's labor relations department, and the manager of Defendant's labor relations department would then select the employees with the highest Evaluation scores to be laid off. (ECF No. 21-2, ¶ 16.) In July 2012, Plaintiff and two African-American employees were selected for layoff based on a reduction in force (“RIF”). (Id. ¶ 48.)

         After his termination from SRS, Plaintiff filed a Charge of Discrimination (the “Charge”) with the United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) and the South Carolina Human Affairs Commission (“SCHAC”). (ECF No. 1 at 1, ¶ 2(a).) In the Charge, Plaintiff alleged that he was discriminated against because of his race and gender and retaliated against in violation of Title VII. (Id.) After receiving notice of the right to sue from the EEOC as to the Charge, Plaintiff filed an action on September 29, 2014, in this court, alleging claims for (1) race discrimination, a hostile work environment, and retaliation (“Count 1”), (2) violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1981 (“Count 2”), and (3) breach of contract (“Count 3”). (ECF No. 1 at 5-8.) Defendant answered the Complaint on December 11, 2014, denying its allegations. (ECF No. 9.) On October 22, 2015, Defendant filed its Motion for Summary Judgment. (ECF No. 21.) Plaintiff filed his Response in Opposition to the Motion for Summary Judgment on November 20, 2015, to which Defendant filed a Reply on December 3, 2015. (ECF Nos. 25, 26.)

         In accordance with 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1) and Local Civil Rule 73.02 D.S.C., the Magistrate Judge issued her Report and Recommendation on June 27, 2016, recommending that Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment be granted as to all of Plaintiff's claims. (ECF No. 28.) As to the discriminatory discharge claim under Title VII in an RIF context, the Magistrate Judge observed that Plaintiff's claim fails because he cannot either identify “anyone who was retained whose performance was worse or who had a worse Evaluation score” or demonstrate that “he was performing at a level substantially equivalent to the lowest level of the group retained or that the RIF produced a residual workforce containing unprotected persons performing at a level lower than Plaintiff.” (ECF No. 28 at 12-13, 16.) The Magistrate Judge assessed Plaintiff's retaliation claim under the McDonnell Douglas[2] framework and found that Plaintiff's claim fails because he did not produce any evidence that the persons contributing to his Evaluation score had any knowledge of his protected activity. (ECF No. 28 at 15.)

         On July 14, 2016, Plaintiff filed Objections to the Magistrate's Report and Recommendation. (ECF No. 29.) Defendant filed a Reply to Plaintiff's Objections on August 1, 2016. (ECF No. 31.) On August 17, 2016, the court held a hearing on the pending Motion for Summary Judgment. (ECF No. 33.)

         II. LEGAL STANDARDS AND ANALYSIS

         The Magistrate Judge makes only a recommendation to this court. The recommendation has no presumptive weight. The responsibility to make a final determination remains with this court. See Mathews v. Weber, 423 U.S. 261, 270-71 (1976). The court reviews de novo only those portions of a Magistrate Judge's Report and Recommendation to which specific objections are filed, and reviews those portions which are not objected to-including those portions to which only “general and conclusory” objections have been made-for clear error. Diamond v. Colonial Life & Acc. Ins. Co., 416 F.3d 310, 315 (4th Cir. 2005); Camby v. Davis, 718 F.2d 198, 200 (4th Cir. 1983); Orpiano v. Johnson, 687 F.2d 44, 47 (4th Cir. 1982). The court may accept, reject, or modify, in whole or in part, the recommendation of the Magistrate Judge or recommit the matter with instructions. See 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1).

         Summary judgment is appropriate when the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with affidavits, if any, show that “there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). “[I]n ruling on a motion for summary judgment, ‘the evidence of the nonmovant is to be believed, and all justifiable inferences are to be drawn in [her] favor.'” Tolan v. Cotton, ___ U.S. ___, 134 S.Ct. 1861, 1863 (2014) (per curiam) (brackets omitted) (quoting Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 255 (1986)).

         The party seeking summary judgment shoulders the initial burden of demonstrating to the district court that there is no genuine issue of material fact. See Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986). Once the movant has made this threshold demonstration, the non-moving party, to survive the motion for summary judgment, may not rest on the allegations averred in her pleadings. Rather, the non-moving party must demonstrate that specific, material facts exist which give rise to a genuine issue. See Id. at 324. Under this standard, the existence of a mere scintilla of evidence in support of the plaintiff's position is insufficient to withstand the summary judgment motion. See Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. at 252. A dispute is genuine “if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party, ” and a fact is material if it “might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law.” Id. at 248.

         The law is clear on how a Title VII plaintiff may survive a motion for summary judgment: “Plaintiffs may prove [Title VII] violations either through direct and indirect evidence of retaliatory animus, or through the burden-shifting framework of McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Green. [Courts] have also referred to these two ‘avenues of proof' as the ‘mixed-motive' framework and the ‘pretext' framework, respectively.” Foster v. Univ. of Md-E. Shore, 787 F.3d 243, 249 (4th Cir. 2015) (internal citations omitted); see Diamond v. Colonial Life & Acc. Ins. Co., 416 F.3d 310 (4th Cir. 2005) (“[A] Title VII plaintiff may avert summary judgment through two avenues of proof.” (internal quotation marks and ellipsis omitted)). ...


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